Flyers have big questions to address in offseason

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Flyers have big questions to address in offseason

Traditionally, the Flyers hold their “break-up” day after the playoffs in the morning or mid-afternoon.

Not this year.

For the first time in decades -- literally -- the Flyers will "break up" Friday night as players, coach Craig Berube and general manager Paul Holmgren will offer their final take on the regular season and playoffs.

The Flyers' lack of quality depth, especially on defense, was badly exposed by the New York Rangers during the playoffs. Because of that, more pressure will be placed on the organization to develop a young, puck-moving defensemen who can contribute big minutes.

Alas, that has been the Flyers’ biggest downfall on defense since the days of Chris Therien.

As usual, the Flyers are facing a number of issues heading into what now figures to be a long summer:

1. What becomes of Holmgren?
There’s a reason why Ron Hextall came back to the organization and a reason why you no longer hear Hexy’s name mentioned anywhere else in the NHL when a GM spot opens up, including Washington, recently. The assumption is that Hextall will replace Holmgren, sooner rather than later.

Holmgren is entering the final year of his contract, but a number of NHL sources believe he will step aside and return to amateur scouting. As one source noted, scouting is what Holmgren has always liked best. He misses the relationship with that side of hockey.

If Holmgren elects to fulfill his final year, the obvious question is how much influence will he have in any decision if Hextall is going to succeed him?

2. Steve Downie
Hands down, this was the worst trade Holmgren made this season. The Flyers gave Colorado their best penalty-killing forward in Max Talbot for Downie, who struggled after a concussion in his first game, save for a brief spurt of decent play. Toward the end of the season, Downie basically fell apart with at least one more concussion and poor play.

Downie is unrestricted and won’t be re-signed.

3. Vinny Lecavalier
The Flyers’ marquee free-agent acquisition last summer quickly became the club’s biggest nightly lineup obstacle when it became apparent Lecavalier did not fit into Berube's top three center spots.

Lecavalier is too prominent a player to be reduced for a fourth-line center role and his $4.5 million salary is dead weight on the Flyers' salary cap because they are overpaying for a guy who averaged less than 11 minutes a game. The fact Lecavalier has four more years on his contract makes his signing even worse. It’s not fair to him or the club, and his salary is near impossible to move.

Lecavalier played poorly much of the second half and is believed to have been suffering from a back injury. Regardless, his situation needs to be addressed.

Bottom line: The Flyers made a splash for a player who did not fit without removing one of their younger centers and now they are paying a harsh price.

4. The defense
Andrew MacDonald made the defense more mobile and helped Luke Schenn in his development as a partner. Yet MacDonald, like so many others on the blue line, had a poor playoff series against the Rangers.

The Flyers need more speed on the back end. Kimmo Timonen is no longer a No. 1. If Timonen decides to come back, he has to accept a far lesser role and cap-friendly salary.

The Flyers have tried in vain forever to get that stud D-man that makes all the difference. They had it briefly in Chris Pronger, but post-concussion syndrome ended his career.

The club says it will not pursue Shea Weber one final time this summer. Matt Niskanen is an interesting free agent on the Penguins who would help the Flyers. Regardless, the club needs to quickly develop its young talent -- Shayne Gostisbehere should get a long look in camp -- before the window closes on a team for which some of the younger players are ready to win now.

The lack of quality depth on defense when a player gets injured remains appalling and needs to be resolved.

All of these issues fall at the feet of Holmgren, who will be under pressure from club chairman Ed Snider to find reasonable solutions if he remains general manager next season.

Tanner Laczynski's development not being lost in sweet freshman year at Ohio State

Tanner Laczynski's development not being lost in sweet freshman year at Ohio State

TORONTO — First semester of college can often be a challenge for many students, but for Tanner Laczynski, the experience was a sweet one — literally. 

Part of Laczynski’s course load at Ohio State was “Chocolate Science.” According to the course website, students receive an “introduction to science and business of chocolate. Students develop and market a chocolate product as part of a virtual company. Students taste commercial products.” 

Laczynski, who plans to declare his major in business in his second semester, got a lesson in chocolates from around the world during the course. 

“Chocolate Science wasn't bad,” Laczynski said with a laugh a few weeks ago. “All I did was eat chocolate and write a paper about it. There's lots of different chocolate, and they all taste good.” 

Growing up 43 miles outside of Chicago in Shorewood, Illinois, Laczynski wasn’t a big football fan, saying there wasn’t much to cheer for with respect to the Bears, but since relocating to the Buckeye State, he’s taken up interest in the local team. 

“That's a big part of it,” Laczynski said of attending OSU. “I've been to two games, they haven't been the strongest opponents so kind of blowouts.” 

Laczynski was in the middle of a nap when the Flyers used their sixth-round pick to select him on the second day of the 2016 NHL draft. He was admittedly startled to be woken up by his parents, Ken and Dawn, along with sister Payton and brother Hayden.

“I'd just gotten back home from coaching some kids, it was early in the morning, came back, took a nap and my parents were all excited,” Laczynski said. “I was still tired from my nap, but woke up pretty quick. 

“They just kind of attacked me so I was kind of like, 'What's going on?' at first. That was unbelievable and it's a moment I won't forget."

After a quick phone call from his agent, Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor and John Riley, in charge of player development in Philly, were on the phone to welcome Laczynski to the club. 

This season, the 19-year-old had six goals and 16 assists in 15 games prior to leaving to join Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships.  

The under-20 tournament is the third time Laczynski has represented the U.S. internationally. He also wore Team USA colors for the under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament and the under-19 World Junior A Challenge.

Through the first six games at the world juniors, Laczynski tallied one goal and an assist. He missed the semifinals against Russia because of an illness but was in the lineup as the Americans defeated the Canadians 5-4 in a shootout to win gold.

Despite being just three months into his first year at OSU, the Flyers remain in constant communication with their prospect. 

“I talk to John Riley quite a bit, he's always in contact with me sending me game film and sending me clips of NHL highlights and stuff like that,” Laczynski said. “We keep in touch, it's a relationship and it's nice to keep in touch with him.”

During his freshman season, skating has been an area of focus for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward.

“I think my big thing is my first couple steps, just my quickness, stopping, getting back on it. I think that's my biggest thing,” he said. “Once I get that down, I feel like I have the speed, but just build an extra step, just improve on that, I think that'll be a tremendous help to my game.” 

Laczynski, who spent three seasons in the USHL prior to committing to the Buckeyes, said he tries to model his game after one-time Flyer Jaromir Jagr. 

“He's kind of the guy that I watched a lot just because of his puck protection and everything,” Laczynski said. “I try to kind of use my body to protect the puck down low and create some chances in the offensive zone. 

“He's got a really good stick — I try to watch that and have an active stick in the defensive zone and offensive zone, as well.” 

In his conversations with Riley and Pryor, the expectations for Laczynski are clear.

“Their goal for me is just to consistently play nine out of 10 nights instead of that seven out of 10 nights and get my game elevated a little bit more, play more consistently,” Laczynski said.

“I think that's the biggest thing.”

Best of NHL: Senators beat Blues, jump Flyers to take over 2nd wild card

Best of NHL: Senators beat Blues, jump Flyers to take over 2nd wild card

ST. LOUIS -- Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone each scored twice to lead the Ottawa Senators over the St. Louis Blues 6-4 on Tuesday night.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Bobby Ryan also scored for the Senators, who won their fourth straight at Scottrade Center for the first time in team history. Mike Condon made 19 saves.

Paul Stastny, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund scored for the Blues, who had their two-game winning streak snapped. Carter Hutton made 18 saves.

Stone's third goal in four games at the 2:35 mark of the third period was the winner. Exactly a minute after Steen tied it, Stone stole Jaden Schwartz's pass to score his 14th goal of the season, giving the Senators a 4-3 lead.

With the win, Ottawa is currently in possession of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, leapfrogging the Flyers, who are idle this week (see full recap).

Stars hold on for 7-6 win over Rangers
NEW YORK -- The Dallas Stars gave up an early goal for the third straight game. However, this time they quickly bounced back, took two big leads and held on for a win.

Patrick Sharp scored twice, Jamie Benn and Patrick Eaves had a goal and two assists each and the Stars got a wild 7-6 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

Dallas fell behind just 27 seconds in as Derek Stepan scored on the Rangers' first shot. On Monday, the Stars gave up a goal 19 seconds into a 4-1 loss at Buffalo, and Minnesota scored 1:19 into a 5-4 win at Dallas on Saturday night.

In this one, the Stars rallied and led 4-1 and 7-3 before pulling out their third win in nine games (3-5-1) (see full recap).

Dubinsky scores twice as Jackets beat 'Canes
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Brandon Dubinsky hadn't scored a goal since Dec. 9 at Detroit, a 17-game stretch during which he had chances but couldn't find the back of the net. The drought ended Tuesday night, maybe helping Columbus end a team-wide lull in the process.

Dubinsky scored in the second and third periods, Boone Jenner had a goal and an assist and the Blue Jackets beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1.

The Blue Jackets got their third win in seven games since ending a 16-game winning streak and pulled even with Washington atop the unforgiving Metropolitan Division.

"We wanted to reset for sure," Dubinsky said. "We haven't played that well, obviously, in the last six or so games. We wanted to get back to the way we play,” (see full recap).

Matthews caps 3-goal burst, Leafs top Sabres
TORONTO -- Auston Matthews, Leo Komarov and Matt Martin each scored in a nine-minute span in the second period and the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied to beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Tuesday night for their 10th win in 13 games.

Toronto came back after trailing 2-0 through 20 minutes, getting its first victory this season when behind after one period (1-8-1).

It wasn't all rosy for the Leafs, though. Top defenseman Morgan Rielly left after the first period with a lower-body injury.

Frederik Andersen made 24 saves for Toronto, and James van Riemsdyk also scored.

Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane and William Carrier each scored for Buffalo. Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson allowed four goals combined on 32 shots (see full recap).